House Proposal Would Eliminate Key JJDPA Funding

WASHINGTON — Funding that goes to states mainly for complying with a federal law designed to protect children in the juvenile justice system would be eliminated under a proposal to be marked up today by a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee.

Juvenile justice advocates expressed alarm over that prospect and plan to meet with juvenile justice advocates in the House today.

The money for the grants to states — known as Title II, Part B formula grants — now totals $55.5 million annually. The Obama administration has requested $70 million for fiscal year 2016.

Efforts to reach the chairman of the subcommittee that’s marking up the proposal, Texas Republican John Culbertson, were unsuccessful.

In a statement released Wednesday night, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized the proposal.

“Juvenile justice intervention programs are important tools to help local communities serve and protect at-risk youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system,” Grassley said.

“It’s discouraging to see that funding for these important programs is not included in the House Appropriations subcommittee’s markup proposal. … These are kids who need help, and it’s unreasonable to leave these programs out of the picture altogether.”

The proposed funding elimination comes at a crucial time, as Grassley and Rep. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced on April 30 a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the JJDPA, which has not undergone a major overhaul in two decades.

The subcommittee proposal is the beginning of a lengthy legislative process that culminates in a conference committee meeting, where differences between the House and Senate bills will be ironed out.

Before introduction of the bill, some juvenile justice advocates had said that after earlier steep decreases of Title II grant funding some states might simply forgo the money. That would allow them to no longer even try to comply with the standards of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The funding is now just around $400,000 a year for many states.

The “core requirements” of the JJDPA, the main federal juvenile justice law, aim to prevent detention of “status offenders” who commit nonviolent offenses like skipping school or possessing alcohol; reduce disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system; remove youths from adult jails and lockups; and keep youths who are incarcerated in adult facilities separated from adult inmates.

“If this proposal gets through the House, which it could, since it is more conservative than the Senate, it would mean that a stronger JJDPA would be moot, since there would be no money to fund it,” said Marie Williams, executive director of the Washington-based, nonprofit Coalition for Juvenile Justice, in an email.

And Act for Juvenile Justice, a Washington-based national coalition of more than 80 organizations, noted in a statement that the Title II funding goes not only toward protecting tens of thousands of children in custody but also to help children at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

“Despite a continuing decline in youth delinquency, more than 60,000 young people are held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities in the U.S,” Act for Juvenile Justice said. “For confined youth, and the many more kids at risk of involvement in the justice system, these programs are critical.”